Friday, July 01, 2005



Star Wars, the Science Lessons


Having a blast with physics
By Mary Anne OstromMercury News

In the opening scene of the latest ``Star Wars'' movie, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker expertly maneuver their Jedi fighters through explosion after explosion.

Thanks to Stanford University physicist and mathematician Ron Fedkiw, the computer-generated barrage actually captures the real physical properties of a blast.

``The key that was missing was the roiling and spinning after a real explosion,'' Fedkiw said. ``I created a new method to control the amount of rotation and turbulent motions in the scene.''

Fedkiw's invention of a method to make computer-simulated imagery more lifelike underscores the growing collaboration between traditional science and entertainment. He works one day a week as a consultant to George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic special-effects house. Some of Fedkiw's colleagues and students consult for Pixar Animation Studios.

ILM taps Fedkiw's expertise to make its computer-created characters flash more genuine smiles or, in the case of ``Star Wars,'' have better-looking lizard skin.

The powerful computing network at Lucas' new Presidio campus will allow Fedkiw and others to solve the increasingly complex physics equations that translate into more visually stimulating graphics.

``They can do a lot of the research and then we work on applying a lot of their findings to the core software that we create for the artists to use,'' said Cliff Plumer, chief technology officer of Lucasfilm.

When Obi-Wan rides a lizard-like creature in the new ``Star Wars'' movie, Fedkiw's job was to get the skin right.

He came up with a series of complex physics equations and fed them into a computer. And, voilà, he got skin that wrinkles like a lizard's.

A thrill, he said, for a man who had no idea when he was a kid that his love for science would lead to the movies. Or as close to stardom as you can get as a Stanford assistant professor: a screen credit on a George Lucas movie.EDITOR'S NOTE: ONCE AGAIN, I MADE WRONG TURNS IN MY EDUCATION DECISIONS. (SHOULD HAVE TAKEN PHYSICS INSTEAD OF BASKET WEAVING. DRAT!)

Jedi HD Tricks
Star Wars' John Knoll On Using the Force of Next-Gen High-Def
By Barbara RobertsonContributing WriterFilm & Video Magazine

It’s no secret that director George Lucas is the most vocal — and most successful — advocate of fully digital feature production.

Working for him is one of the most challenging jobs a visual effects supervisor or an engineer can take on.

For the two most recent Star Wars films, that task has fallen to Industrial Light & Magic’s John Knoll, a digital guru whose resume includes a stint working on The Abyss at ILM at the same time he and his brother Tom were creating a digital image manipulation program for the masses known simply as Photoshop .

While the air is “thin” up there at the Ranch, Knoll clearly has an eye out for the working man.

He sat down this spring to talk about what anyone planning an HD VFX job needs to know before they start shooting.

The Star Wars prequels have been an adventure in color space from the start. While Episode I was shot in HD, Lucas snuck in a very short scene shot in film. The second of the series put the early 24p HDCAM CineAlta cameras from Sony through their paces. With Revenge of the Sith the crew took a leap into a much richer color space with the new generation of Sony RGB recording.

That digital-imaging experience served Knoll well as he navigated the technological thicket surrounding post on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

On Episode II, we used the first-generation [ Sony ] CineAlta cameras, which worked well, but we had to be careful of an overexposure characteristic,” says Knoll. He explains that because the camera had a quick fall-off at the top of the exposure, shooting brightly colored objects could result in color banding rather than a smooth transition from color to white.

David Tattersall, our DP , had worked with the cameras before we got into principal photography and tailored his shooting style a bit,” he adds. “We got good images, but it was because we had a good DP shooting them. When we went to III, almost every aspect of the HD experience improved considerably.”

That was particularly true in post, where pumping high-quality digital images into a camera tells only half the story.

For the pixel-pushers on the visual effects crews, the format used in the tape deck tells the rest.

Episode III was shot using the latest generation of HD equipment: Sony HDC-F950 cameras and Sony SRW-1 and SRW-5000 VTRs running 4:4:4 RGB using the SQ recording rate of 440 Mb/sec (with additional hard disk recorders built by ILM). Compared to the earlier 4:2:2 format, the SR 4:4:4 format made a significant difference for the ILM crew. EDITOR'S NOTE: I HOPE YOU ARE TAKING NOTES; THERE WILL BE A QUIZ.

We could push images further to increase contrast and brighten up a shot,” says Knoll, who supervised 1700 of the 2500 shots for Episode III. “If George wanted to blow a shot up, we had better images to begin with.” EDITOR'S NOTE: WHATEVER ALL THOSE NUMBERS MEAN, ROTS IS GORGEOUS TO LOOK AT. AND VISIBLY MORE SO THAN THE AT-THE-TIME REVOLUTIONARILY SO AOTC OR TPM.

But, especially important to ILM, the move from 4:2:2 YUV to 4:4:4 RGB also translated directly into higher-quality blue-screen extractions with less effort.

Green Screen Blues
When so much of the movie is shot against blue screen or green screen, we rely on color-difference matting techniques,” says Knoll. That means the more colors the better.

With the earlier equipment, RGB color from the camera was converted into 4:2:2 YUV format when it was recorded. This format effectively slices the color bandwidth in half because one color value represents more than one pixel. The result is fewer chroma (color) samples than luma (luminance). This chroma sub-sampling combined with spatial sub-sampling effectively reduced HD’s 1920 resolution to 1440 for luma and 960 for chroma, according to ILM HD Supervisor Fred Meyers.“It’s based on science that says your eye isn’t as sensitive to color transitions as to luminance,” explains Meyers. “That’s valid, but it’s not optimum for images recorded on tape that are further manipulated, whether they’re used for compositing and visual effects, digital intermediates and color-corrections, or for blowing an image up. In bluescreen extractions, it’s the fine lines that matter.

“Say an actor with a light-colored flesh tone is in front of a blue screen,” Knoll explains. “The flesh tone is mostly red and green with very little blue in it. It has extremely high luminance and relatively low saturation color. It’s immediately adjacent to a low-luminance high-saturation color that’s on the far end of the color space. In 4:2:2, the luminance makes that transition in one pixel, but because the chroma has been subsampled, the color needs two pixels. So trying to get fine extractions for hair and thin, wispy objects without getting a bit of a line was tricky. We got good results, but it was more work than with a film scan.” EDITOR'S NOTE: AND JUST LIKE THE SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF I DO FOR FICTION, I CAN EASILY TAKE MR. KNOLL'S WORD FOR IT WITHOUT COMPLETELY TRACKING WHAT HE JUST SAID THERE. (CALL IT FAITH. THE FORCE. I BELIEVE. CAUSES LESS WRINKLES THAN COMPREHENSION).

The problem was exacerbated when the 4:2:2 YUV was converted back into RGB.

When the color information which is at half resolution gets reconstructed as RGB, you have to interpolate those values,” says Knoll. “There’s always a little round-off error.”

Furthermore, the previous 4:2:2 recording formats used only 8 bits for color (and some used 8 bits for luminance as well).With the new HDCAM SR 4:4:4 RGB, however, color information is kept for each pixel, all 1920 pixels across the image. The color stays RGB all the way. And, the format stores color using 10 bits per channel, allowing 1024 shades per color, not 8-bit’s paltry 256. That provides more dynamic range for shadows and highlights. It makes bluescreen extractions easier. And it means bandwidth-saving gamma encoding can now compete with log in the quality race. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO YOUNG OBI-WAN IS PURTIER!

Gamma Raise

To be stored digitally, color must be encoded. CG uses linear intensity, film uses log encoding, HD video uses gamma. “If someone says they’re recording in video linear space, it’s a misuse of the term,” says Meyers.EDITOR'S NOTE: SO NEVER SAY THAT!What they mean is gamma.”Meyers explains that with CG, to make images convenient for use as texture maps, color is stored using linear intensity. “It takes 16 bits or more to represent what the eye might see in a scene — the brightness off a car bumper, the darkness off a tree,” he says. “Most people say it takes more.”

Thus, to represent information recorded on a film negative in less than 16 bits, studios use log encoding for film scans and to exchange recorded files. 10-bit log, for example, is a widely used file interchange format. “With log encoding, you can characterize a negative from minimum to maximum density in a way that makes it possible to match it throughout the film recording and printing process,” says Meyers. “But, with log encoding, a greater spread of bits is allocated to shadows than to highlights. It’s film-centric, and it’s about densities.”EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU HAD ME AT HELLO.

As might be expected, the earlier HD format with 8-bit gamma encoding doesn’t always measure up to 10-bit log or 16-bit linear intensity. But 10-bit gamma does, according to Meyers. “Now that you can encode material in gamma in 10 bits, you can record as much in the highlights as in the shadows, which means you can manipulate either,” he says. Meyers believes that once people begin working with 10-bit gamma encoding, they will see no reason to be limited to log encoding, which is based on film recording. “Film is now only one of the output formats,” says Meyers. “HD, whether digital cinema, broadcast, DVD or other digital media, no longer benefits from film-centric log encoding.” And the advantages extend beyond the blue screen: “You have more bandwidth and latitude in the overall image,” says Meyers. “People are taking a lot of liberties these days in color-correction, manipulating the contrast, the saturation, and even the colors. Having the additional resolution and bandwidth is an advantage any time you need latitude to adjust the look of the image.” EDITOR'S NOTE: SO....IN THEORY....I COULD HAVE A FILM CAREER. I MEAN, I COULD BE ADJUSTED (OR RATHER, MY IMAGE COULD BE) TO BE TALL AND THIN. AND 25! I'M LIKIN THIS SCIENCE STUFF!

The crew, includingGeorge Lucas (center), monitored the action on big, portable plasma screens.

High-End HD TipsTalk about distance learning — from a galaxy far, far away come nine pieces of advice on shooting HD and HDCAM SR from VFX supervisor John Knoll and HD Supervisor Fred Meyers. EDITOR'S NOTE: A SERVICE WE OFFER THE 3 PEOPLE IN OUR READING AUDIENCE WHO HAVE A CLUE. (FOR THE REST OF YOU, PUNCH AND COOKIES IN THE REC ROOM).
>>Don’t Waste Bandwidth If you have 10-bit gamma with curves that protect the top end of the exposure range, you have all the benefits perceived in log plus the benefits from working in gamma space in shadow areas. If you record an image in log space instead, you’re wasting bandwidth.

>>4:4:4 RGB and 10-bit Color Don’t Just Matter for FX Work When you don’t have to convert the color space from camera to tape deck to post, and when you have wider bandwidth and more bit depth, you have a noticeably sharper image with better color characteristics. This allows more latitude for better image manipulation.

>>Open Up for Depth of FieldRather than being right in on top of the action with wide lenses, George tends to play further back with the longer lenses,” says Knoll. Because the small imaging chip on the HD cameras provides more depth of field per f-stop than film, rather than shooting at 5.6 as they would with film, they opened the lens. “We were shooting at 2 and 2.8 for a lot of the movie. It meant the lighting package could be less."

>>Use Plasma on Set The Star Wars crew didn’t squint at a video tap on a little CRT on set. They gazed at two 50-inch plasma monitors, one each for A and B. And inside Meyers’ tent, calibrated HD monitors showed images in controlled lighting conditions. “You didn’t have to wonder if that thing in the corner is in focus,” says Knoll. “And no matter what was happening on set with flashing lights and weird colors, we could go into the tent and see what we were going to get.”EDITOR'S NOTE: I LOVE MY DLP, BUT MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE BEEN PATIENT AND WAITED FOR PLASMA? (PATIENT? NAH.....)

>>Use Video Noise Like Film Grain The noise level in HD can be much lower than the grain level on film, so you don’t have to separate the grain from elements you’re working with. But you can use the noise level in digital in the same way that you would push film to increase the grain. You can treat it as a tool to get a gritty look. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK. I ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD THIS ONE. COOL!

>>More Data is Better The amount of compression with the HDCAM SRW deck is less than the D5, Panasonic or previous Sony HDCAM. And with 10-bit 4:4:4 you’re putting more data on the tape. That makes the elements in a major effects picture like Star Wars, all those blue screens and green screens, superior and easier to extract.

>>Reduce the Resolve Use lensing and creative filtering to reduce the resolving capability of the F950 cameras. Otherwise, the additional detail the cameras capture in comparison to film (anamorphic 35mm and Super 35) would be objectionable in set pieces, make-up, costumes, and so forth. EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT TO MENTION AGE AND BLEMISHES AND STRANGE LITTLE TICS.

>>Waveforms Rock Inside Meyers’ tent, Knoll used waveform monitors to check blue-screen exposures. “A well-exposed blue screen is going to produce a totally flat line,” says Knoll. “If the line is spread out, there’s an exposure difference top to bottom. If it has a hump in it, there’s a hot spot. When we were shooting film blue screen, I’d use a spot meter to check the exposure and say, ‘It looks like you’re about a half-stop hot in the corner.’ Now I can see it on the waveform.”

>>Record Sound on Set People assume that you need a separate system to record sound, but there are 12 audio tracks on HD. If you record it on HD, it’s already synced and you can pass it to editorial in one go.

John Knoll, Professional Hobbyist

When John Knoll swings around from his desk, he comes face to face with a wall-sized line chart that shows the progression of the 1700 visual effects shots he supervised for Star Wars Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. The lines on the chart start near the floor and slant smoothly upward. When the last shot wraps, they’ll reach head height.Knoll spends mornings in dailies and looking at individual shots. The afternoon is a mixture, from checking the stage to looking at review requests for shots people want to run overnight.

A show like this has to be scheduled like clockwork,” he says. “You have to make sure there are no kinks in the pipe, that everything is ready when it’s supposed to be ready.” He turns to answer a review request that appears on his monitor with footage of Obi-Wan riding a lizard-like creature. The TD needs to put a digital light saber in Obi-Wan’s hand and wants to know if he can fake it or if he needs to create a CG hand so the fingers will close around the light saber. Knoll quickly types a message telling him to create the CG hand.

To the right of his desk, a four-channel motion-control system is planted squarely on the floor. If you drew a timeline between the heavy metal box and the wall chart, you’d trace Knoll’s 20-year career in visual effects.

Knoll built the motion-control system while at USC film school to put an Oxberry animation stand under computer control so he could create a slit scan experimental film. It was 1984 and the computer was an Apple II.

Two years later, he was a motion-control cameraman at ILM.“I’d say my M.O. has always been: Develop a hobby, get really good at that hobby, and turn it into a profession,” he says. It turns out that his hobbies have influenced the way visual effects are created by other professionals, too.

Take Photoshop for example.

Two years before Knoll arrived at ILM, Lucas had sold Pixar and started a computer graphics department. During a tour of the CG department, Knoll saw a demo of Pixar’s Image Computer.“The demo wouldn’t impress anyone today, but it knocked my socks off,” he says. “They loaded a David deFrancisco laser scan of a film element onto the Pixar frame buffer and sharpened it. The implications weren’t lost on me. The world was open to massive innovation. But the hardware cost thousands of dollars.”

Not long after, the 23-year old went home to Michigan, where he saw the image-processing programs his brother Thomas was creating on a Macintosh for a doctoral thesis in vision systems. The rest is history.

Left to right: Rob Coleman, animation director , John Knoll and Gavin Bocquet, production designer, talk about sets at the Fox studios in Sydney, Australia.

A demo of Pixar’s image-processing computer coupled with his brother’s interest in vision systems led Knoll to start working on an image-manipulation program that became Photoshop .

When he and his brother were about a year and a half into creating Photoshop , Knoll moved into ILM’s computer-graphics department and The Abyss (1989) became the first feature film to use a version of Photoshop .

But by then, Knoll already had a new project in mind — digital compositing. “The optical process was a slippery fish,” he says. “But with a digital composite, when you fixed something it would stay fixed, and you could keep making the shot better without degrading the elements. There would be no limits.”

When a shot came up in The Abyss that would have been a nightmare to composite optically — the door closing on the pseudopod with a splash — Knoll and Jay Riddle jury-rigged a way to do the composite digitally using the Pixar Image Computer and an Exabyte tape drive. The tape drive was necessary because the Pixar had only 16 MB of memory in its frame buffer — enough to hold one high-resolution frame.“It was kind of a crazy rickety process,” Knoll says. “But it was really exciting. No one had done this before.”

By 1990, Knoll had become a visual effects supervisor and when he took the effects helm for Star Trek: Generations in 1993, he turned another hobby into a profession. “I was bidding a shot where the Enterprise goes into warp drive,” he says. “The numbers I got back from computer graphics were depressing because it was bit like we were doing a dinosaur movie. I’d been playing around with commercial tools, so, as an experiment, I decided to do the shot myself.”

He built the model in Form Z and created the shot on a Macintosh one weekend using Electric Image and After Effects .“I became enamored with the idea of simple shots with simple tools,” he says.

So, when Star Trek: First Contact showed up, ILM’s Rebel Mac group was born. The unit moved from Star Trek to Star Wars Episode I, for which they created the space battles, and on to Episode II.

Eventually, some Rebels left and founded The Orphanage.

The Rebel unit succeeded themselves out of business,” Knoll says. “Now, ILM’s computer graphics department has tools for keeping simple work simple.”

Given Knoll’s M.O., you might think he’s moved onto something else.

You’d be right. Remember that old motion-control system beside his desk? He brought it into his office for a reason — a little hobby project that he can’t talk about yet using that system and a digital camera . Given Knoll’s career trajectory, chances are it, too, could change the way people create visual effects.

Star Wars Technology Breakthroughs

“On a show for George there are always a ton of things to do for the first time,” says John Knoll. “He writes whatever he wants and assumes that we’ll figure it out. He never limits his thinking to what he knows can be done. I love working that way.” EDITOR'S NOTE: WHAT AN AMAZING MAN, OUR UNCLE GEORGE! INCREDIBLE. AND IT MUST BE VERY EXCITING AND INSPIRING FOR THESE TECH REVOLUTION GUYS.

>> Episode I With 2000 shots, The Phantom Menace had far more shots than any ILM had worked on before, and the most complex shots.“There were so many things we couldn’t do when we started the show,” says Knoll, who points to a few technology leaps. Cloth-simulation software and a method for rendering crowds for shots with more than 500 walking, talking characters wearing clothes. Rigid-body simulation software to transition the droids from one model into pieces that bounced realistically on the floor. And, for the pod race, a way to generate 10 minutes of screamingly fast CG terrain.

>>Episode II The biggest challenge for Attack of the Clones was creating the HD infrastructure, according to Knoll. Secondly, Lucas wanted better digital doubles. George had had a frustrating experience on every picture because stunts are dangerous, time-consuming and expensive, and he maintained they forced an artificial cinematography and editing style on him,” says Knoll. “He wanted to decide the framing and where to cut. The digital stunt performers had to be in waist-up shots, so we had to do better skin and hair.”

>>Episode III For Revenge of the Sith, the challenges were pipeline efficiency and digital environments.

George asked us to push environments toward computer graphics rather than miniatures when they could be done either way,” says Knoll. “That mandate drove technology forward for creating 3D matte paintings.”



Thursday, June 30, 2005

Star Wars, Quick News Flash (Thursday AM)


Time's Movie Madness Final Matchup voters have narrowed their list of the top movies of all time from 64 down to just two. The Godfather and Star Wars.

Vote Here NOW



Buy Three Tickets, Get One Free


From 20th Century Fox:Buy Three Tickets to STAR WARS: EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH and Get Your Fourth Ticket FREE!

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (June 29, 2005) – As Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith continues to thrill Star Wars fans and break box office records around the world, the “Fourth” will be with U.S. moviegoers from July 1-4, 2005.

This weekend only, when they buy three tickets to see the sixth and final chapter of George Lucas’s epic saga, ticket buyers will get a fourth ticket for free at participating theaters.

Revenge of the Sith has been in theaters for six weeks now, and the enthusiasm for this movie is still as palpable as opening weekend,” said Bruce Snyder, President of Domestic Distribution for Twentieth Century Fox. “Like a ride at their favorite amusement park, people are seeing the movie over and over again to make sure they don’t miss anything before it leaves the big screen, so we’re giving them a little Fourth of July treat to keep the fireworks going.”EDITOR'S NOTE: PR BS, BUT STILL TRUE.

In Revenge of the Sith, the final and most dramatic chapter of the Star Wars saga, the Clone Wars rage as the rift widens between Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and the Jedi Council. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), the young Jedi Knight with an allegiance to Chancellor Palpatine, struggles to keep his marriage to Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) a secret amid the turmoil. Seduced by promises of power and temptations of the dark side, he pledges himself to the evil Darth Sidious and becomes Darth Vader. Together, Sidious and Vader set in motion a plot of revenge against the Jedi, leading to a climatic lightsaber battle between Vader and his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), which will decide the fate of the galaxy. EDITOR'S NOTE: BUT YOU DID KNOW ALL THIS, RIGHT?

Lucasfilm Ltd. is one of the world’s leading film and entertainment companies. Founded by George Lucas in 1971, it is a privately held, fully integrated entertainment company. In addition to its motion picture and television productions, the company’s global businesses include Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound; LucasArts Entertainment; Lucas Licensing; Lucasfilm Animation and Lucas Online. Lucasfilm’s feature films have won 19 Oscars and its television projects have won 12 Emmy Awards.One of the world’s largest producers and distributors of motion pictures, Fox Filmed Entertainment produces, acquires and distributes motion pictures throughout the world. These motion pictures are produced or acquired by the following units of FFE: Twentieth Century Fox, Fox 2000, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox Animation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Star Wars, more odds-n-ends

Jedi Missing In Action
The last Set Diary talked about Shaak Ti and her on-again/off-again appearance in Episode III. Despite the best efforts of the Creature Shop's makeup crew and Orli Shoshan, the colorful character was ultimately cut from her more visible scenes in the film.

Likewise, from reading the early Set Diaries from May and June 2003, fans of Barriss Offee, Luminara Unduli, and Bultar Swan were looking forward to their favorite Jedi returning for on-screen action. As the story of Episode III evolved, it wasn't meant to be.

The three actresses behind these characters -- Nalini Krishan, Mary Oyaya and Mimi Daraphet -- did show up at Fox Studios Australia to undergo makeup and wardrobe tests. At the time, the shooting script was still being finalized. Barriss was in it, as was Luminara. Though Bultar Swan wasn't specifically mentioned in the script, there was enough Jedi action that calling her in for fittings was prudent preparation.

Then the shooting schedule arrived. It became apparent that the tests were premature. Almost none of the Order 66 material was slated to be shot during the 60 days of principal
photography. Ki-Adi-Mundi on Mygeeto was scheduled, as was Obi-Wan on Utapau, and Plo Koon's cockpit scene.

That was it -- the rest would have to happen during pickup photography.

In the script, the Order 66 scene played a bit differently. There was no Saleucami. There was no Cato Neimoidia. Instead, we had more cases of multiple Jedi on a single planet, rather than the one Jedi-per-planet scenario that opened up the galaxy considerably in the finished product.
Barriss Offee was backing up Aayla Secura on Felucia.

The script describes:
Another Jedi, BARRISS OFFEE, is cutting down a patrol of DROIDS when a CLONE WALKING TANK and SEVEN CLONE TROOPERS round a corner and blast the Jedi away.

This was at least rendered in animatics, but it was cut at that stage. Also joining Barriss on Felucia was Adi Gallia. This is the reason for the splash page graphic of the Hyperspace webstrip series Reversal of Fortune having Aayla, Gallia and Barriss standing side-by-side. Originally, they were a team, but that team split during postproduction.

The shot of Aayla Secura marching through the underbrush was actually a few seconds longer. In the finished film, she starts the shot walking. Originally, she was to have been standing still, talking to Adi Gallia (or rather, Stass Allie) who was on a speeder bike. After the bike rockets away, Aayla begins her march.

Again, from the script:
Three Clone Barc speeder bikes race through the forest. A Jedi, ADI GALLIA, is in the lead. The TWO CLONES following her drop back and blast her, causing her to crash in a huge EXPLOSION.

This Jedi was renamed Stass Allie, and this action was moved from Felucia to Saleucami, the last planet to be added to Episode III.

Before Saleucami became a desert world marked by strange bloated plants, it was described as a "bridge world," an odd planet with bridges spanning enormous gaps and inverted skylines suspended from those bridges. This world further evolved with the bridges becoming more like hammocks, and the cities resting on top of the curves. The planet was also renamed Cato Neimoidia, and became the site of Plo Koon's death.

As reported in a Set Diary, Plo Koon was originally to have a line of dialogue: "There they are. Land on the nearest platform." Not exactly the most inspirational of last words.* EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE AN ALTERNATIVE LAST WORDS, BELOW.

In the script, he too gets blasted away by clones, but the screenplay describes the action as happening on Mygeeto, the same planet Ki-Adi-Mundi is on. EDITOR'S NOTE: IS ANYONE TRACKING ALL THIS, BECAUSE I'VE NOW GOTTEN COMPLETELY LOST.

This, of course, changed, but it is the reason why the clone commander who takes him out was never named. All the other clones stationed on Order 66 worlds have names -- Gree on Kashyyyk, Neyo on Saleucami, Bly on Felucia, and Cody on Utapau. Cato Neimoidia's clone never got an identifier because Sidious' order was originally directed to Bacara, when the action was to take place on Mygeeto.

For those lamenting the loss of Episode II Jedi returning in Episode III, there's some tiny consolation.

Some of the distant Jedi getting blasted inside the Temple were taken from bluescreen elements of arena Jedi from Geonosis... so you never know. Your favorite supporting Jedi may be in there. Dying, sure, but he or she may at least be in the movie. EDITOR'S NOTE: OR MAYBE THEY SURVIVED THE INITIAL PURGE!

Quinlan Vos, of course, deserves special mention.

It's rare when a character or element crosses the gulf that divides the films and the expanded universe, and Vos made it so close. His apprentice, Aayla Secura, made the transition in Episode II, and it was with a smile that I read the Episode III script, describing Quinlan Vos on Kashyyyk. Who was going to play him, I wondered. In my giddiness to spread the word, I dropped the hint that an expanded universe character was slated to be in the film. Oh, I tried to couch it with the phrase "is slated," since I knew being in the script doesn't necessarily mean being in the movie. But perhaps I should have been even more cautious, since a possibility transforms into a sure thing when read by someone with enough hope.

Quinlan Vos was never cast. Costume Archivist and Supervisor Gillian Libbert was putting together a costume folder for him -- a collection of fabric swatches and notes -- and with my help, she gathered a lot of reference imagery of Vos from his various comics appearances. She wanted to recommend Michael Mooney, the Assistant Costume Designer, to play the role. It wasn't an acting role, but did require someone in good shape who fit the look.

Here's what was scripted:

The Jedi QUINLAN VOS is riding on top of a CLONE TURBO TANK. The main cannon of a second tank slowly swings to point right at him and a COUPLE OF CLONES. The cannon fires, and QUINLAN VOS and the CLONES disappear in a huge explosion.

That's some pretty cold stuff. It does explain why the turbo tank was developed in such detail, since it was to be the setting of Vos' death. The scene made it to animatic, but was obviously never completed.

As for Luminara, she too was scheduled to be on Kashyyyk.

As the script describes:
A Jedi, LUMINARA UNDULI, talks with EIGHT CLONE OFFICERS standing in a circle around her. Suddenly they reveal their hidden pistols and blast her before she can react.

This, too, was cut from the film, though the character of Luminara stayed. All that was needed from her was a single, distant shot, so rather than fly the original actress from Sydney for an afternoon of bluescreen shooting, she was instead played by a local. Art Department Supervisor Fay David played her for the one shot. Similar replacements were done for Unduli and Shaak Ti in Episode II (that's not Mary Oyaya jumping aboard the gunship on Geonosis, for example, but rather one of Rob Coleman's animators).

The fluctuating Jedi count played havoc on those of us tasked with tracking which Jedi was where. That was felt the most on the Jedi Council. To this day, the Episode III roster is still a bit hazy. The presumption was that Shaak Ti's death opened up a chair on the Council to be filled by Anakin. But when Shaak Ti didn't die at the start of the movie, that changed the makeup of the Council. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH. GOOD POINT. I HADN'T EVEN THOUGHT OF ALL THAT AS A EU CONTINUITY ISSUE, JUST A FILM ISSUE. STUPID QUESTION (AND ONE FOR WHICH I MIGHT LOSE MY QUEENDOM) --- ARE THERE ALWAYS THE SAME NUMBER OF JEDI ON THE COUNCIL? HOW MANY IS IT?

From on-set principal photography of the Council scene, we knew we had Yoda, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Plo Koon, Saesee Tiin, Stass Allie, and Agen Kolar on the Council. Add back Shaak Ti, and that brings the total to nine.

ILM created a new Ongree Jedi for the council scene (named Coleman Kcaj, strangely enough) bringing the total to ten. Kit Fisto was added in postproduction, which brought us to eleven. Add Anakin, you have twelve.

But that math kept fluctuating. At one point, an empty little tub chair belonging to a mysterious Jedi Master was to be seen in the film, and there was a serious contender to fill it. When the Jedi Council scene was arranged in such a way as to see a tub chair on screen, George Lucas wanted a Ratts Tyerell-type alien sitting there. It was even modeled and animated for the one shot. Had this shot been completed, that little Jedi would have been Tsui Choi, a character originally from Dark Horse Comics.

On October 19, 2004, I emailed Rob Coleman reference illustrations of Choi.

So, even though I knew Quinlan was out of the picture, I remained quiet when asked about expanded universe characters appearing in Episode III. I really thought and hoped that little Tsui Choi had a real shot at being in Revenge of the Sith.

* Matt Sloan, the good-humored man behind the Plo Koon mask, had no shortage of last lines for the Jedi Master. My favorite was, "You want us to order 66? Order 66 of what?"

Star Wars Galactic Heroes Backpack Danglers Set
Price: $12.99

Star Wars Galactic Heroes Danglers! Great for attaching to backpacks, or can be used as keychains. Set of 4 individually polybagged danglers includes: 1x Luke Skywalker, 1x Han Solo, 1x Boba Fett, 1x Yoda (Subject to Change).

The coolest characters from Star Wars are brought to life in "mini" cool chunky style!EDITOR'S NOTE: HARUMPH. WHY IS IT THAT MY FIGGER HAS NEVER BEEN REFERRED TO AS 'COOL CHUNKY'? Each easy to stand figure is approximately 2-inches tall.


This Episode IV Joe Johnston illustration defines the shape and detail of the Millennium Falcon's powerful quad laser cannons.

Clone Commander Cody (Temuera Morrison) has served with General Obi-Wan Kenobi on many battlefronts.

With all four lightsaber blades extended, Grievous presses his advantage.

Harrison Ford readies himself for an action photo-shoot of Han Solo.

Brother against Brother: Obi-Wan and Anakin (Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen) tangle in an abandoned corridor of the Mustafar complex.

Time Magazine 1997

The Wednesday Hodgepodge


'Cinderella' guaranteed
Universal Pictures' "Cinderella Man" may have lost a few bouts at the boxoffice, but AMC Theatres hopes to keep the film from throwing in the towel.

In an effort to spread positive word-of-mouth about the boxing drama that stars Russell Crowe, AMC is making moviegoers an unusual offer of a money-back guarantee.

Ticket buyers who don't like the film are promised that their money will be refunded, no questions asked.

The theater chain, the country's second largest, began the promotion Friday, explaining in newspaper ads and on its Web site,

"AMC believes 'Cinderella Man' is one of the finest motion pictures of the year! We believe so strongly that you'll enjoy 'Cinderella Man,' we're offering a MONEY BACK GUARANTEE."EDITORS' NOTE: TOOOOO FUNNY. (AND THE SAD THING IS? IT IS A GENUINELY GOOD MOVIE).

Cuoco is CHARMED by WB
Kaley Cuoco will join the cast of the WB's CHARMED for next season.

The 8 SIMPLE RULES star will play "a young witch under the tutelage of the Charmed ones (Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs and Rose McGowan)."

Mark McGrath has also signed on to the series and will be featured in a multi-episode arcEDITOR'S NOTE: NO ONE CARES ABOUT THIS, DO THEY? (JUST IN CASE.....)

NBC gets into pilot spirit
NBC is taking an early start to the next development cycle with two drama pilot orders.

The network has given the green light to a project from Oscar-nominated "Million Dollar Baby" writer Paul Haggis, and to a retooled version of the Fox pilot "Windfall."

The untitled Paul Haggis project, which will be produced by NBC Universal TV Studio, revolves around two Irish brothers who grow up against a backdrop of organized crime in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York. Haggis and Bobby Moresco, who wrote and produced the summer indie hit "Crash," penned the project on spec. The two will exec produce the pilot, with Haggis also set to direct. Another "Crash" producer, Mark Harris, is on board as a co-exec producer, while Jeff King ("EZ Streets") is in talks to serve as a producer


20th Century Fox has picked up the rights to Rob Reger's EMILY THE STRANGE. The film will be a mix of live-action and animation.

The story centers on Emily the Strange, a rail-thin 13-year-old whose clothes are as black as her hair and as dark as the tone of her adventures.

Since its creation in 1993, Reger's character has turned into a multimillion-dollar industry.
Reger told the Hollywood Reporter, "I've been approached by many studios and producers, but only Fox was willing to make me a true partner in the process, and thus ensuring the integrity of the character."

Starbuck Strikes Back
Time to throw some streamers around the room pursits. Looks like the original "Battlestar Galactica " is returning to the screen. The 'Big' Screen. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO WE WILL HAVE TWO SEPARATE AND DIVERGENT CASTS AND STORIES GOING AT ONCE? YEAH...THAT'LL WORK.

A scooper tells Aint it Cool, that series creator Glen A. Larson was at the London Film & Comic Con and announced a feature film version of the classic TV series, hoping to have it off the ground within the next twelve to eighteen months.

Dirk Benedict just attempted at back flip. EDITOR'S NOTE: OF COURSE, AT HIS AGE, THAT'S PROBABLY NOT A GOOD IDEA.

Boyd on Master and Commander 2

Lord of the Rings" star Billy Boyd says he might be joining Russell Crowe for another cruise.

Talking to The Hollyood News, the actor says there's rumblings of a "Master and Commander" sequel.

"There are like 21 books of Master and Commander, and Fox already own the ship so a lot of people, I think were confused as to why there hasn't been a sequel yet", says Boyd. "We'll just have to wait and see. There is talk of it and Peter Weir said that I won't die in the next one, but he said I will die in the third one. So I've still got another movie, and then I've got a death scene! So great! I do hope they make some more as I had great fun making that film."

Di Caprio draws Blood
Leonardo DiCaprio has announced his next project.

The busy 30-year-old has signed to do "The Blood Diamond", says Variety, a dramatic thriller from director Ed Zwick.

According to the trade, the film will have DiCaprio as a smuggler, in Sierra Leone circa 1999, who deals in the sale of "blood diamonds", or "conflict diamonds" - stones that are used to finance rebellions, privateers and terrorists. Our smuggler friend bumps into an indigenous Mende farmer whose kid has taken off with the RUF's army, and suddenly, the two men are linked.

After "Blood", DiCaprio is likely to start filming a remake of "For Whom the Bell Tolls".


Amazon announces panel of 'HP Experts'

For those of you who missed it, Amazon has announced their "Panel of Harry Potter Experts," a panel of 10 kids who will be reviewing Half-Blood Prince for them shortly following its release.

Also, Amazon is already offering a book 7 notification sign up. You can sign up here.



32 films get Gold Reels for $100 mil mark
An all-time high of 32 movies grossed more than $100 million at the overseas boxoffice during the past 12 months, up from 21 the year before, researchers Nielsen EDI said Tuesday.

Nielsen handed out its Gold Reel Awards to honor the high-grossing pictures at an annual lunchtime ceremony during Cinema Expo.

Several of them went to newcomers, including Japan's Toho Company and a pair of U.S.-based companies -- Lakeshore Entertainment Group and the Fellowship Adventure Group.

Nielsen Entertainment International president Nick King told an audience of largely European-based theater operators that of the 32 honorees, five had hit $100 million in the first five months of 2005 alone.King said the number of movies crossing that mark internationally now outweighed the number doing that kind of boxoffice in the U.S. and Canada.

King also said research shows concrete evidence that movies no longer need big U.S. launches to enjoy big international boxoffice success.EDITOR'S NOTE: FINE. BE THAT WAY. HARUMPH.

This year, United International Pictures reeled in a record-breaking nine awards, the distributor's personal best and a record for any one company. UIP distributes the output from three separate studios: Universal, Paramount and DreamWorks.

The UIP titles hitting pay dirt internationally were "The Bourne Supremacy," "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," "Collateral," "Meet the Fockers," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Shark Tale," "Shrek 2," "The Terminal" and "Van Helsing."

Accepting the awards, UIP president and chief operating officer Andrew Cripps promised not to go through each title one by one and thanked the exhibitors for their efforts in posting the returns for what was a marked improvement on last year's total of four awards.

Twentieth Century Fox International followed last year's tally of two awards with six this time around, including one for "Robots," which still is to be released in key international territories. Twentieth also walked off with awards for "The Day After Tomorrow," "Garfield," "I, Robot," "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Star Wars Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith."

EDI's King noted that, of the six, only "Robots" had failed to surpass its U.S. domestic gross, and it still had territories including Japan and South Korea to come.

Warner Bros. Pictures swept up five awards for "Constantine," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Ocean's Twelve," "The Polar Express" and "Troy." Warner representatives also took home the evening's award for Intermedia's "Alexander," which scored more than $100 million.EDITOR'S NOTE: SO YOU FERRINERS MIGHT NOT NEED US FOR BOX OFFICE, BUT MAYBE FOR TASTE?

Buena Vista International walked away from the luncheon with awards for "The Incredibles," "King Arthur," "National Treasure" and "The Village."

BVI president Mark Zoradi praised Pixar Animation and Touchstone Pictures, and name-checked producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director M. Night Shyamalan for "important relationships."

The company also accepted stablemate Miramax International's plaudit for "Shall We Dance?"

Sony Pictures Releasing International reeled in a pair of awards, with "Spider-Man 2" and "Hitch" hitting the benchmark for the renamed Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International. SPRI senior executive vp Mark Zucker joked that the performance of "Hitch" was excellent because "it's not easy to do (romantic comedy) without Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts."

Newcomers to the reel show, Toho International and reps for Initial Entertainment Group and Lakeshore Entertainment Group, all took to the stage to accept one award each. Toho's "Howl's Moving Castle" achieved the benchmark from its Japanese release alone.Initial picked up an award for "The Aviator," while Dutch distributor A-FILM landed a trophy for Lakeshore's "Million Dollar Baby."

This year's Gold Reels also saw one final first as a documentary took home an award. The prize for Fellowship's "Fahrenheit 9/11" was handed out in a separate ceremony in the U.S., organizers said.

Panel: DVD 'at the plateau'

After years of smooth sailing behind the DVD, the home entertainment industry is beginning to spot the first clouds on the sales horizon.

Eight years into the format, growth -- though still strong -- is slowing, the boxoffice pipeline is faltering and a next-generation format war is approaching.

"Y'all are crazy," retailer Kevin Cassidy told high-definition backers unwilling to agree on a unified format. EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU'D THINK THEY WOULD HAVE LEARNED FROM PAST EXPERIENCE, EH?

The comment came during the Next Generation Supersession at the fourth annual Home Entertainment Summit: DVD Magic 8, which is produced by Home Media Retailing magazine in cooperation with The Hollywood Reporter and DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A veritable (Tuesday)Hodgepodge

Potter orders break million mark
Posters announce the imminent arrival of the new Harry Potter book

Worldwide advance orders for the new Harry Potter book have exceeded one million, says online retailer Amazon.

At this rate, pre-orders should top the 1.3 million pre-orders received for the previous Harry Potter book in 2003.

Amazon's UK arm has already taken more than 200,000 pre-orders of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, published in the US and UK on 16 July.

Last week US chain Barnes and Noble said advance orders had topped 750,000 and were expected to exceed a million.

"Amazon customers are clearly incredibly excited about the sixth Harry Potter book," said Kes Nielsen, senior vendor relations manager at

Huge discounts
However, some smaller bookshops claim their sales will suffer due to the huge discounts Amazon and other retailers are offering on the latest instalment of JK Rowling's boy wizard saga.

The Half-Blood Prince topped's book chart less than 24 hours after its release date was announced last December.

The children's and adult versions of the title have remained in the top two spots ever since.

The book will be published simultaneously in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The Potter book series has inspired three hit movies, with a fourth - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - due to be released on 18 November.

Man in Harry Potter scheme appears in court
Christopher Brown, 38, pleaded not guilty Monday to plotting to sell two stolen copies of J.K. Rowling's latest Harry Potter sequel, The Half Blood Prince.

Brown faces charges of helping in the theft of the book copies and of possessing a weapon. He was ordered to appear for trial on Aug. 8 and released on bail.

Brown and another man, Aaron Lambert, 19, were arrested on June 3 after allegedly trying to sell a copy of The Half Blood Prince to a newspaper reporter. Police say a gun was fired near the reporter when he came to meet them.

Lambert is due to appear in court on Oct. 10, accused of possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and of stealing two copies of the book from a distribution centre in central England.

HP in National Geographic Kids

Jo has suggested in the past that she might write an encyclopedia containing everything she couldn't fit in the original series. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND SHE'S LIKE UNCLE GEORGE; SHE HAS ACRES OF BACK-STORY AND DWEEB-FANTASTICAL MINUTIA. GROOVY!

The "Burning Question" feature in the issue asks Dan Radcliffe if he could be any kind of animal, what would he be. Dan's answer: an owl. EDITOR'S NOTE: AWWW.

Happy Birthday Dobby has updated to wish Dobby the House Elf a happy birthday. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS WAS YESTERDAY, ACTUALLY. (HAPPY BELATED, DOBSTER!)

First shipment of HBP lands in the US
Barnes & Noble have announced that the first US shipment of HBP have landed at Jamesburg, New Jersey. EDITOR'S NOTE: COME WEST AND SEE PRETTIER STATES!

It is expected, between now and the book's release date, that they will receive a caravan of 124 tractor-trailers weighing more than four million pounds. That's a lot of books. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND ONE OF THEM BE MINE!

A train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct near Fort William, featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Picture: David Mitchell

Harry Potter and the tourism bonanza

JK ROWLING'S boy wizard returns to the bookshelves on July 16 with the eagerly anticipated latest instalment of the Hogwarts franchise, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.But the new novel might also be called Harry Potter and the Tourism Bonanza.

Like the so-called Braveheart effect in the mid-1990s, the Potter books and spin off films are creating such a stir among fans they are heading to Scotland to drink in some of the atmosphere.

For decades fans of Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott have beaten a trail to Scotland in search of the inspiration for some of the world's greatest literature.

Now the novels about the young wizard and his friends at Hogwarts school are at the forefront of Scotland's booming literary tourism trade.

Contemporary authors based in Scotland such as JK Rowling, along with native Scots Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh, have helped fuel this tourism boom. Books set in Scotland are also having an impact with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code encouraging tourists to flock to Rosslyn Chapel on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The novel's climax is set in the 15th century church.

One beneficiary of the Potter phenomenon is the Glenfinnan Monument near Fort William. It is located close to the Glenfinnan viaduct which features in the most stunning scene of the Chamber of Secrets film when Harry's flying Ford Anglia is nearly run over by the Hogwarts Express.

Although the monument is a memorial to the doomed Jacobite uprising of 1745 led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the visitor centre there saw a sharp increase in figures following the film's release in 2002. In 2001 some 18,000 tourists visited the site and by 2003 this had jumped to 22,125.

The centre is run by the National Trust for Scotland, which witnessed a similar increase in interest at the Wallace monument in Stirling following the 1995 Braveheart film.

Ian Gardner of NTS said: "These are the figures for visitors actually going through the centre, I'm sure many more went straight to the viaduct to get the Potter experience.

"There's no doubt that the pleasant spin off from the Potter movies for us is that more people have come to see the Glenfinnan monument.

"The Braveheart factor has shown there can be a significant rising of awareness in Scottish history and heritage through film and books.

"It wasn't only foreign tourists who were moved to come to the Wallace Monument, it was Scots too, who had found a renewed interest in their heritage."

Worldwide interest in Brown's international bestseller The Da Vinci Code has led to a seven fold increase in visitors to the historic Rosslyn Chapel in the Midlothian village of Roslin.

In 1995 about 9,500 visitors came to the see the church with its Masonic symbols and intricate carvings. In 2003, the year the work of fiction was published, the number had risen to 38,000 and more than 68,000 visited the site in 2004.

Stuart Beattie, director of the chapel is now braced for even more visitors when the film of the book, starring Tom Hanks, is released next year. The chapel has agreed to allow filming there later in 2005.

Beattie said: "There is no doubt this book has raised awareness of the chapel and this is an exciting time for us. It means a great deal to us that it has been promoted in this way, but it also means we have had to change our programme of improving the facilities here.

"Next year we are expecting anything up to 100,000 visitors, especially when the film comes out. So, for example, we’ve had to upgrade the car parking facilities a year in advance of our plans to accommodate the interest." EDITOR'S NOTE: AT LEAST THEY ARE FORE-WARNED SO THE INCREASED INTEREST DOESN'T DO THEM MORE HARM THAN GOOD.

As well as upgrading the car park, the chapel is to recruit a full-time visitor services manager to cope with the influx of visitors and to allow other staff to concentrate on the renovtion of the chapel.

Tourism agency
Visitscotland believes literature will continue to be a major attraction for overseas visitors.

While fans of Scott have flocked to his home at Abbotsford in the Borders and to Burns' cottage in Alloway, Edinburgh has become the Unesco city of literature.

A number of literary tours have also sprung up in the city, including the Rebus tour, where devotees of Edinburgh's roughest detective can sample the delights of the St Leonard's area and the Trainspotting tour around some the landmarks of Leith used in the novel and the film. EDITOR'S NOTE: MIND-DEVASTATING DRUGS EXTRA?Next year a "Magic and Mystery Tour" of Scotland is planned, no doubt taking in some the sites from current popular novels.

A spokeswoman said: "Books and movies do stimulate interest and it’s good for Scotland to see increased tourism numbers as a result.

"There are no overall figures for literary tourism, as most visitors go to other events and sites. But from the individual attractions, it's obvious there is a draw there.

"The Potter books' associations with Scotland have been a great boon. We believe that with the Da Vinci Code film will be the next Braveheart." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND HOPEFULLY A BETTER MOVIE?

This article:

Giamatti SCREWS-ON for Sci-Fi Channel
The Sci Fi Channel has signed actor Paul Giamatti to voice the lead charater in a new animated series AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD, which is based on the comic book by Mike Mignola.

Giamatti joins a cast that already includes the voices of David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon and Patton Oswalt.

The story, set in the 1860's, will center on a Civil War-era secret agent (Giamatti) at the service of president Abraham Lincoln and an unsung hero who never made it into the history books. His special power is the ability to screw his head onto a variety of different bodies. Hyde Pierce will play Emperor Zombie, while Shannon will voice Patience the Vampire and Oswalt plays Mr. Groin. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO GLAD WE GAVE UP "FARSCAPE"; WE COULD HAVE MISSED OUT ON THIS.

Jason Netter and WONDERFALLS's Bryan Fuller will executive produce.

Lions Gate gets 'Crash' course in TV
After a detour to the big screen, Paul Haggis' "Crash" is about to reach its original destination: television.

FX has put in development a TV series based on Lions Gate Films' hit indie to be produced by Lions Gate Television.

Don Cheadle, one of the stars of the gritty drama about race relations in post-Sept. 11 Los Angeles, is likely to appear in and direct several episodes of the project if it goes into series.

Sources said talks are under way with all other members of the cast, including Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser and rapper Ludacris, to reprise their roles from the film. Bobby Moresco, who co-penned the script for "Crash" with Haggis, is in negotiations with Lions Gate TV to write the pilot script, sources said. EDITOR'S NOTE: REALLY GREAT, INTELLIGENT MOVIE. AND SO DEPRESSING I CAN'T IMAGINE BEING ABLE TO HAVE IT IN MY TV ROOM EVERY WEEK.

BBC America broadens sked with new adds
The musical love story/thriller "Viva Blackpool" and the gritty medical drama "Bodies" are among the slate of new co-productions that BBC America announced Monday.

Other new projects include a made-for-TV movie starring Bill Nighy and Miranda Richardson, the miniseries "Messiah: The Promise," the comedy-drama series "Love Soup" and comedy show "The Robinsons."

The slate announcement follows news in January that BBC America is doubling its programming budget over the next two years EDITOR’S NOTE: I JUST GOT THRU WATCHING TWO 2-HOUR INSTALLMENTS OF CLIVE OWEN IN “SECOND SIGHT”. BRING THAT BACK? (PRETTY PLEASE WITH SUGAR ON TOP?)

AMC, Duvall saddle oaterNet gambles $15 mil on horse opera
AMC has engineered the priciest original programming deal in its history, spending $15 million for a four-hour miniseries exec produced by and starring Robert Duvall. Duvall and longtime friend Alan Geoffrion developed "Daughters of Joy," an epic adventure set in the Old West.

Cumming to guest star on 'L Word'
Alan Cumming, who played the blue-skinned Nightcrawler in "X2: X-Men United," will guest star as a party promoter on Showtime's "The L Word," now in production on its third season.

Cumming will appear in six episodes, Showtime said Wednesday.

Twelve new hour-long episodes of the sexy melodrama about lesbian life in Los Angeles are scheduled to premiere next year.

Discovery taps Turturro to host 'Screening Room'
Discovery Times Channel has named John Turturro host of its new documentary showcase series "Discovery Times Screening Room."

The series, which offers a unique perspective on topical issues, begins July 7 with the network premiere of "Promises," an examination of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The Thing About The Fantastic Four Soundtracks
Careful – the first soundtrack album for THE FANTASTIC FOUR movie won’t be the actual film score, but the obligatory exploitative song compilation release.

Released on Wind-Up records on July 5th, the “various artists” soundtrack, entitled Fantastic Four - The Album, features the usual assortment of pop tunes barely heard in the film, including new music from Velvet Revolver, Joss Stone, Ben Moody featuring Anastacia, Sum 41, Taking Back Sunday, Chingy, and Ryan Cabrera, plus the debut of two highly anticipated Wind-up artists, Megan McCauley and Omnisoul.

The real soundtrack music, however, will appear on July 12th from Varese Sarabande. The epic score for FANTASTIC FOUR was composed by X2 composer John Ottman.

Scored for a huge orchestra and capturing the scope of the picture, Fantastic Four may well become one of the classic scores of the comic book genre.

See the May/June issue of Film Score Monthly magazine for a short interview with Ottman about his FF score.

BOURNE Yet Again

Universal Pictures has hired Tony Gilroy to write THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Gilory will be paid close to $2 million for the assignment. He will base it on the Robert Ludlum's series of books.

Matt Damon has not officially signed on to the film, and most likely will not until a script is completed. No director is attached yet either. EDITOR'S NOTE: READ IT MORE CAREFULLY THAN YOU DID LAST TIME, MR. DAMON. I DON'T WANT THEM TO MAKE A BOURNE MOVIE WITHOUT YOU, BUT I REALLY DON'T ANOTHER LET DOWN LIKE B2. (AND IT IS ABOUT ME. YOU GOT THE MEMO, RIGHT?)

KONG is King of the Trailers EDITOR'S NOTE: NICE WIDDLE MONKEY.......

In case you missed the airing of the trailer for Peter Jackson's KING KONG, here is a direct link to see it:


Depp on PIRATES 2 & 3
How is it shooting two films at the same time?
Johnny Depp: Well, it's a lengthy process. It's going to take us a while.

Over 9 months?
JD: Maybe more.

Are you shooting the films back to back?
JD: As much as we can, we are doing two, and every now and then, you may have to slot something in from "Pirates 3", but the majority of what we have done so far have been 2 and then we will start moving into 3 after the hiatus. It's been great fun so far

Why did you choose to revisit the role of Captain Jack?
JD: For me, there was only reason and one reason only, it was Captain Jack. It was selfishly to have the opportunity to play Captain Jack again. Some people can look at it and say, "Depp sold out." I don't believe that I have. It certainly wasn't my attention to sell out but I wanted to play again because I think he's so much fun to play and I think there is so much more to explore with that character that I would keep going. If they wanted me to do "Pirate 7", why not?

What will we see this time around?
JD: In "Pirates 2 & 3", you will get to see a couple of new layers to Captain Jack. You will get to see him in new situations; situations that he is unable to talk his way out of. There's a lot of fun stuff.

Will Keith Richards be in the film?
JD: It's looking very good. I've talk to Keith about it and he's been super sweet and keen to do it and it's looking very good. We are just hoping that we can work out the dates with the Stones tour and everything but if that happens, you talk about a dream come true. Get to be a pirate with Keith Richards? Does it get better than that? EDITOR'S NOTE: NO, JOHNNY, NO. I GUESS IT DOESN'T.

CHICKEN LITTLE to go 3-D Big Time

Walt Disney Feature Animation will team up with Dolby Digital Cinema and Industrial Light + Magic to release CHICKEN LITTLE in 3-D.


CHICKEN opens November 4th.

Park wins film award with 'Gromit' in tow
AMSTERDAM -- A clay dog and his grinning owner were the stars of the show Monday at Cinema Expo International as Oscar-winning animator Nick Park jetted in to present a sneak preview of DreamWorks' "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." EDITOR'S NOTE: GIGGLE. THEY COULD JUST SAY THE TITLE OVER AND OVER AND MAKE ME LAUGH.

In the film, Park's best-known claymation characters make their feature-length debut in a tale about their efforts to stop a plague of rabbits eating the townspeople's prize vegetables.

A giant inflatable Gromit dominated the car park outside the RAI International Exhibition and Congress Center, which hosts the exhibitors' event, and several of the finely crafted sets used in the movie were on display in the lobby.

Wilson, Larson give a 'Hoot' for NL family film
Luke Wilson is boarding "Hoot," Walden Media and New Line Cinema's adaptation of Carl Hiaasen's Newbery Award-winning book of the same name.

Brie EDITOR'S NOTE: THEY NAMED THEIR KID AFTER A CHEESE?Larson also has joined the cast of the picture, which is being produced by Frank Marshall and Jimmy Buffett.

Written and directed by Wil Shriner, "Hoot" centers on a young Montana boy who moves with his family to Florida, where he uncovers a plot to systematically destroy a local population of endangered owls. The boy ends up battling unusual creatures and eccentric adults in order to save the owls.

Wilson will portray David Delinko, a bumbling cop whose investigation is stymied by the boy and his friend (Larson). Logan Lerman already has been cast as the boy

Has Maggie Grace left X-Men 3?
If the whisper is true, then a couple of thousand just cancelled their option to pre-purchase tickets. According to a rumour on Deadpool's Blog - via Superhero Hype - that divine spunkrat christened Maggie Grace ["Lost"] may be out of "X-Men 3". She was to play Kitty Pryde.

According to the site, the production team have announced they're looking for a new foxy mutant to fill the blonde superstar's hot pants.

No reason is given why Grace has apparently left the film.

Meantime, Variety reports that a third "X-Men" spin-off - milk anyone? - could be in the works. Dark Phoenix? Mystique? Freddy vs.Jason vs.Storm? EDITOR'S NOTE: THE DWEEBLETTER MANAGEMENT CLAIMS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS POST OR THE SOURCE AUTHOR'S LIMP FAN-BOY SNARKING.


Adrian Paul to star in Highlander 5
Looks like Duncan-buffs are in for a bit of a treat.

Adrian Paul - who was never officially going to do anymore in the immortal "Highlander" franchise - has signed on to reprise his role as Duncan McCloud in the fifth - that's a whole hand of Christopher Lambert - "Highlander" film.

Highlander 5 will be filming later this year in Eastern Europe, with a script by David Abramowitz, who was the head writer on the TV Series. Adrian will star in the film, and he will also be an Executive Producer.

La Femme Nikita vs. Superman
Former "La Femme Nikita" star Peta Wilson has been snapped up for a role in Warner's "Superman" redo.

According to News.Com.Au, the actress will play publicity representative Bobbie Faye in the pricey blockbuster. Apparently it's only a small role, but her scene is "crucial to the storyline". Wilson's a Sydney girl, so is probably lovin' the fact she gets to return home to the Harbour City to put mug to lens.

Kodak, Barco link on d-cinema push
Eastman Kodak Co. and projector company Barco announced Wednesday a strategic alliance to facilitate a worldwide rollout of digital cinema. EDITOR'S NOTE: SEVERAL DAYS LATE AND DOLLARS SHORT, UNCLE GEORGE FINALLY GETS HEARD?

The announcement comes a day after Barco competitor Christie announced a deal with AccessIT.

Neither announcement has secure deals in place with studios or exhibitors.

Kodak and Barco say the alliance has two purposes: It enables each company to sell and support complete integrated digital cinema solutions, with Kodak providing digital cinema systems for preshow use and Barco selling its 2K DLP EDITOR'S NOTE: DLP! WOOHOO!!! digital cinema projection systems, and it also allows Kodak and Barco to collaborate on solutions for the future.

Casting directors vote to join Teamsters
Hollywood's casting directors overwhelmingly have voted to become members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, completing a organizing process that included the threat of a strike, union officials said Thursday. EDITOR'S NOTE: IS IT JUST ME, OR DID YOU JUST GET AN IMAGE OF A BIG BURLY GUY WITH A CIGAR CASTING A MOVIE?

The final tally showed that the casters voted 243-9 to unionize, setting the stage for them to negotiate a contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, which represents the major studios and networks.

"We're very pleased by the results," Teamster Local 399 business agent Steve Dayan said. "Now comes the hard part -- we have to sit down and negotiate a collective-bargaining agreement so we can get these guys some medical benefits and the working conditions that they're entitled to."

The AMPTP refused to grant the casters collective-bargaining status but tried to resolve the dispute by offering to address one of the casting directors' chief concerns, health coverage.

With the Teamsters' backing, that was rejected as insufficient and threats were made to walk off the job and have Teamster drivers and location managers respect the picket lines.

In the end, the industry alliance decided in February to leave the decision to the casters in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

According to Dayan, NLRB officials said it was the smoothest election they've had in 25 years."In light of the election results, we will honor our duty to bargain in good faith," AMPTP spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti said.

The casting directors likely will get the health and pension they were seeking as well as minimum wages and working conditions, but they also will have to start paying dues and stand ready to support other Teamsters in organizing efforts.

The industry's resistance was fueled by its belief that casting directors are independent contracts who, as a rule, can't legally unionize. The Teamsters maintained that the casters were employees who had an inherent right to unionize.It was left to the NLRB to determine who was eligible based on their work record.

Those members will now be members of Local 399 in Los Angeles and Local 817 in New York. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO LOOK FOR THE UNION LABEL....COME ON!....EVERYBODY SING!

Dylan in exclusive CD deal with Starbucks

Counterculture legend Bob Dylan on Monday became the latest musician to sign up with Starbucks Corp. in an exclusive CD deal that follows the runaway success of a Ray Charles album sold by the coffee maker.

"Dylan: Live at the Gaslight 1962," co-released with Sony BMG Custom Marketing Group, will hit Starbucks coffee shops Aug. 30.

It features 10 previously unreleased tracks from performances at New York's Gaslight Cafe over four decades ago, including "A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice It's Alright."

Starbucks is moving aggressively into the music scene by selling CDs consumers can't buy elsewhere. The company does not disclose how much CD sales add to profits. One analyst said the music business has been more helpful in driving customer traffic than contributing meaningfully to sales. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO GLAD I'M NOT A CHILD OF THE 60'S. SO GLAD I CAME OF AGE IN A MUCH MORE CYNICAL TIME. BECAUSE OTHERWISE, THIS KIND OF NEWS.....DYLAN AND CORPORATE SHILLING....COULD REALLY HAVE A SERIOUSLY DEVASTATING AFFECT ON ME. SO HAPPY I'M SHALLOW.

How'd you get so mean?
As the summer blockbusters introduce a new bunch of baddies, Leo Benedictus gives a few pointers on what makes the perfect villain

Be British
Sophistication in all its forms is a sure sign of evil, and American audiences find nothing more sophisticated (or untrustworthy) than a snooty Brit.

The British villain industry - whose leading exports include Steven Berkoff, Ian McDiarmid, Gary Oldman, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins and many others - is now estimated to be one of the nation's biggest earners. Alan Rickman alone is more valuable than detergents. EDITOR'S NOTE: ESPECIALLY, IF YOU'RE TRYING TO BE EVIL AND DIRTY.

Interestingly, British audiences prefer their evil to originate on the continent. Anyone who looks as if they might start speaking in another language is clearly not to be trusted. Thus, as a counterpoint to James Bond (who would himself be the villain in most Hollywood movies), we have Ernst Stavro Blofeld, foreigner extraordinaire.

Nevertheless, five out of six Blofelds have been played by British actors. Anthony Dawson (who was also the evil metallurgist Professor Dent in Dr No) stroked the cat in From Russia with Love and Thunderball. He was followed by Donald Pleasence (You Only Live Twice), Charles Gray (Diamonds Are Forever) and John Hollis (For Your Eyes Only). Hollis's brief appearance was a clear promotion from his previous roles as henchmen to the masked Klytus in Flash Gordon and treacherous Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH. THAT'S WHY THE NAME SOUNDED SO FAMILIAR. I WAS JUST ABOUT TO IMDB. (LOBOT).

Europeans themselves, of course, do not realise how evil they are, which can cause problems. In the German version of Die Hard, for instance, the extremely German terrorists are identified only as "European", and the name of Alan Rickman's character had to be changed from Hans Gruber to Jack Gruber. EDITOR'S NOTE: SELF DELUSION, THEY NAME IS HANS.

Take up a hobby
Ideally, of course, this should be something evil, such as drug-taking (Gary Oldman in Leon), lair-building (various) or torture (everyone).

Alternatively, it is good to try to incorporate a harmless hobby into one's work. Bad guys are keen pet lovers, for instance, with snakes, sharks and piranhas always a popular choice. The Batman series, in particular, would never have been possible without the contribution of demented cat, penguin, riddle and coin-tossing hobbyists, among others.

Villains are susceptible to fads too, of course, such as the bomb-making craze of the mid-1990s, when Tommy Lee Jones (Ryan Gaerity in Blown Away), Dennis Hopper (Howard Payne in Speed) and Jeremy Irons (Die Hard With a Vengeance) all played crazed bomb enthusiasts, vainly lecturing the hero on the beauty of explosions. Jones's character spent years rigging up his own lair, an abandoned ship, into one marvellous Heath Robinson-type bomb. Happily, he got to see it blow up. EDITOR'S NOTE: BUT WHEN PUT TO SUCH GOOD USE 'ON THE JOB' AS IT WERE, DOES THE BOMB-MAKING BECOME A VOCATION, AND MORE THAN A HOBBY?

Have a name that scores well in Scrabble
Unusual letters of the alphabet, like all unfamiliar things and people, should be treated with suspicion.

A lot of death could have been avoided if a few people had thought twice about Hugo Drax (Moonraker), Zorg (The Fifth Element), Rene Belloq (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Max Zorin (A View to a Kill) and Xenia Zaragevna Onatopp (Goldeneye).

Sometimes, though, the name is just too obvious. We will have to wait until July to see why Victor von Doom, aka Dr Doom (Fantastic Four, played by Julian McMahon), was not locked up at birth. EDITOR'S NOTE: CAUSE HE'S REALLY REALLY CUTE! DUH.

There is some evidence to suggest that this principle works the other way round, filling perfectly normal people like Max von Sydow and Brian Cox with the urge to be evil on screen, or - in the case of Roman Abramovitch - real life.

More research is needed to discover why.

Feel sorry for yourself
Villains are people, too. Usually, it was only when something went wrong in their life (preferably disfiguring them) that they turned to evil. EDITOR'S NOTE: ALTHOUGH, WHY ASK WHY?

If you or I lost a thumb in our poorly paid bomb-disposal job and then weren't appreciated properly when we retired, we too, like Dennis Hopper's character in Speed, would put a bomb on a lift and demand a giant ransom (with another two on buses, just in case it didn't work).

In the same way, Sean Bean resents being shot in the head at the beginning of Goldeneye, so naturally he hatches a plan to steal a prototype helicopter, hijack a nuclear weapon in space and then use it to rob a bank.

The Bond series, in fact, is positively obsessed with the connection between disfigurement and evil. There is Dr No's prosthetic hand, Largo's eyepatch in Thunderball, Blofeld's scar in You Only Live Twice, Tee Hee's metal arm in Live and Let Die, Scaramanga's third nipple in The Man With the Golden Gun, Jaws's metal teeth in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Renard's bullet in the brain in The World Is Not Enough and Zao's scarred face in Die Another Day. To which we might add that Zorin in A View to a Kill was genetically engineered by Nazis, Franz Sanchez in Licence to Kill suffered from bad acne as a teenager and Goldfinger is clearly overweight. EDITOR'S NOTE: I DON'T THINK HAVING THE DESIRE TO KILL SKINNY PEOPLE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED EVIL. (JUST STATING THIS FOR THE RECORD).

At the risk of being boring, it is also worth pointing out that Zorg in The Fifth Element (played by Gary Oldman) has a metal leg, the Gestapo officer has a branded hand in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the latest Star Wars film centres on the disfigurement of Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, the most disabled bad guy of them all. Perhaps one day somebody will assemble all these evil prostheses to create the ultimate robo-baddie.

Perhaps not.

Get rich
This is very important. While most extremely rich people limit their evilness to hiring a good tax lawyer and flying everywhere, a true villain, having accumulated his first couple of billion, will build an enormous evil empire, hire the most evil henchmen available and then set about trying to take over the world.

The Green Goblin in Spider-Man, Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies and Roman Abramovich at Chelsea are good examples.

The starting point for anyone considering a career in villainy, therefore, is to make a lot of money.

One route might be by playing villains in Hollywood. Jack Nicholson, for example, is reputed to have made more money from his role as the Joker than any other actor has ever been paid for any movie (around $60m from a contract that included merchandising). EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THOUGH HE IS NOT BRITISH, HE IS ALSO NOT MUCH OF AN ACTOR (IMHO), SO HE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE EVIL.

Once you are rich, flaunting it is a sure sign of evil intent.

It was hard to imagine what form an evil meteorologist might take until a group of them pulled up with their shiny new vans and started showing off their equipment in Twister. And if you have obscure and expensive tastes, so much the better. Villains eat caviar from endangered species; heroes are happy with bread and butter.

Be Christopher Lee
When a man is 6ft 5in tall, descended from Italian aristocracy, educated at an English public school, a brilliant fencer and golfer, loves opera, speaks French, German, Spanish and Italian, and can "get along" in Swedish, Russian and Greek, you know he is destined for evil. EDITOR'S NOTE: YEAH. I'VE NEVER TRUSTED PEOPLE WHO CAN 'GET ALONG' IN SWEDISH.

Ian Fleming originally wanted Lee, who was a distant relative of his, for the role of Dr No; Lee didn't get the part but went on to become one of the most prolific screen actors of all time. The Internet Movie Database estimates that 85% of his film roles have been villains.

His record, which includes appearances as baddies in the James Bond, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings franchises, will surely never be surpassed. He has played Scaramanga, Frankenstein's monster, Rasputin, the Mummy, Count Dooku (twice), Saruman (several times), Dr Fu Manchu (five times) and Count Dracula (10 times). Other miscellaneous bad guys from the Lee oeuvre include Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, the Tong leader in The Terror of the Tongs EDITOR'S NOTE: WHICH HAD TO DO WITH BAD BBQ? and - on one blood-curdling occasion - Prince Philip. How Ralph Fiennes and not Lee bagged Voldemort in the upcoming Harry Potter film remains a mystery. EDITOR'S NOTE: HAVING TO STILL BE AROUND FOR ANOTHER FEW YEARS MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH IT. (STILL BREATHING SIGHS OF RELIEF ABOUT COUNT DOOKU....). PLUS, HEWHOSHALLYOUKNOWWHAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT 65 OR 70. NOT 90.

Die extravagantly
One of the reasons that villains are so rich is that they have no need for a pension plan, since the position carries a high risk of violent and ironic death.

Thus, if you take an airport hostage in the afternoon (Major Grant in Die Hard 2), you can expect to be sucked into a jet engine before dinner. If you plan to make your fortune by inventing a device that drills holes in battleships in order to start a war that your newspapers can then make a lot of money from reporting on (Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies, played by Jonathan Pryce), then it would be a good idea not to stand near the drill until everything has worked out. And if you steal the Ark of the Covenant for Germany instead of for America (Rene Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark), you must expect to be melted by the Lord.EDITOR'S NOTE: I WAS CHEEZ WHIZ FOR GOD! FONDU FOR THE ALMIGHTY? BUTTER FOR DIOS MIO?

· Batman Begins is out now. Fantastic Four is released on July 22, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is released on November 18

Muppets move to center stage for

Curmudgeons don't come much more lovable than Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy old men who offered unsolicited and witty comments on "The Muppet Show."

Now the puppet duo is getting a regular spot on to share their inimitable reviews of upcoming films with online fans.

"Statler and Waldorf -- From the Balcony" kicked off Thursday with their remarks on "Bewitched" and "War of the Worlds."

Besides words, the puppets also have the "Snooze-O-Meter" for ranking a movie's interest level between nodding off during the opening credits to staying awake through the whole film.

Dan Sherlock, vp, said Statler and Waldorf did a screen test of sorts during the Oscars. User traffic and feedback was so positive that a regular feature was created.

New Walk of Famers: Theron, Martin, Broderick

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on Friday released the eclectic list of Walk of Fame recipients for 2006 including Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Nathan Lane, Steve Martin, Charlize Theron, Ray Romano, Isaac Hayes and Motley Crue.

"Each name on this list will bring much happiness to our residents and tourists from around the world," Walk of Fame chairman and Hollywood honorary mayor Johnny Grant said.

Soundtrack honors for Portman, Leiber and Stoller

LONDON -- British composer Rachel Portman, the first woman to win the Oscar for a film score ("Emma") will be honored at the World Soundtrack Awards along with songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, organizers said Friday.

Portman will present a selection of her scores, including "The Cider House Rules," "Chocolat" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance," at the Oct. 15 event, which is staged as part of the 32nd Flanders International Film Festival.

Downturn affects Movie Gallery

Movie Gallery, the nation's second-biggest video rental chain since merging with Hollywood Entertainment, said that the well-documented slowdown at the boxoffice has seeped into its business as well.

Shares of Movie Gallery dropped more than 15% on Wednesday after CEO Joe Malugen said sales in the second quarter wouldn't meet previous expectations because of "the flow-through of an unimpressive slate of titles" EDITOR'S NOTE: CEO-SPEAK FOR 'THE MOVIES SUCK' THIS YEAR.

Over-45 crowd snapping up DVDs

A lifelong fantasy and sci-fi fan, Jeff Slankard didn't see any of the recent "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter" movies in theaters, as he would have done before his children, 9 and 2, were born.

But he doesn't feel deprived -- he's got them all on DVD. "They're coming out so soon now," he said. "I really enjoy watching movies at home after the baby's gone to bed. It's not exactly the same experience, but with the new home theater systems, it's pretty darn close."

Slankard, a 52-year-old wine buyer from Oceanside, Calif., is hardly alone. EDITOR'S NOTE: IF HIS ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM IS THAT NICE, MAYBE YOU SHOULD DROP IN, MARGARET, AND WATCH MOVIES WITH HIM!

While much of Hollywood -- and most everyone else -- continues to zero in on the lucrative 18-34 demographic, studio executives say they're seeing a strong uptick in DVD purchasing by the over-45 crowd. EDITORS' NOTE: AND UNTIL WE LOSE OUR TEETH AND KEEL OVER IN OUR TAPIOCA, YOU'D BETTER PAY ATTENTION TO US, DARN IT!

Theater merger may lift independents
But resulting behemoth may result in less choice for movie goers
With Chicago’s two largest movie theater operators set to merge, observers say any theater closings that may be required by federal regulators could offer a boost to independent movie houses but less choice for movie goers.

Earlier, Kansas City-based AMC Entertainment Inc., already the nation’s No. 2 film exhibition company, said it plans to acquire No. 5 Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp., creating a behemoth with about 450 theaters and about 5,900 screens in 30 states and 13 countries that will rival industry leader Regal Entertainment.

Observers say anti-trust concerns may force the closure or sale of some cinemas.

In the late 1990s, the merger that created Loews Cineplex resulted in 11 theaters being sold in Chicago.

Loews used that opportunity to phase out smaller, obsolete theaters that they would likely have closed anyway, according to Barry Schain, a broker with Next Realty who often handles theater deals. If action is ordered again this time, the remaining smaller theaters would be likely shut rather than sold, given the recent tough market for exhibitors where ticket sales have steadily declined, said David Sikich of Iltis Sikich Associates, a Chicago film booking and distribution company.

Loews’ Pipers Alley, which often shows slightly edgier fare, and Esquire on Oak St. both have only a handful of screens and could be on the block, experts say.

It could help theaters like the Three Penny which haven’t been able to play with a Pipers Alley," says Mr. Sikich. "They would be able to get more high profile independent movies."

That may have a trickle-down effect for even smaller theaters that see potential hit movies going to other exhibitors.

In recent years independent movies like “Napoleon Dymamite”, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “The Blair Witch Project” have brought in big money at the box office . However, independents and art-houses are still waiting for a big hit this year.

It might mean that we would have a better chance at some first-run films,” that would typically go to larger theaters, says Marty Rubin, program director at the Gene Siskel Film Center. “Right now, Landmark scoops up all the films that Music Box used to get and Music Box scoops up films that we would get.”

But a larger conglomerate with a huge publicity machine controlling so much of the market could result in more show times for profitable box-office blockbusters at the expense of more cutting-edge works.

"It's a bigger T-Rex with a bigger body, a bigger head and a bigger tail that will be able to suck up more of the people that are willing to come out there," said Charles Coleman, the program director at Facets Cinematheque. "They'll probably stack it so that if something does really well, they'll do it on more and more screens." EDITOR'S NOTE: THERE ARE ONLY SO MANY GOOD MOVIES TO GO AROUND. IF PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO SEE WHAT'S PLAYING, AND/OR IF THEY'D RATHER SIT AT HOME WITH THEIR PLASMAS, THE NEWLY-MERGED 300-LB-GORILLA WILL NOT HAVE MUCH CONTROL OVER ANYTHING THAT MATTERS.

In the long run, any boon from the merger may do nothing other than buy independent theaters some time, said Mr. Sikich.

In the greater Chicago area, AMC operates nine locations with 166 screens, including the River East 21 megaplex on Illinois Street. Loews operates 16 locations with 177 screens, including a megaplex at Webster Place and theaters at 600 N. Michigan Ave., near the River East 21, as well as smaller North Side theaters such as Pipers Alley and Esquire.

In Chicago, the chains typically trade off screening box office blockbusters at their largest locations near Michigan Avenue and near Webster and Western — two of the top movie hotspots in the Midwest — say those familiar with the local theater industry. AMC is currently screening “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” in its Michigan Avenue area theater, while Loews is showing it at the Webster Place theater.

As for movie goers, analysts say they don’t expect to see ticket prices rise more than the typical 2 or 3 percent per year.

In the long run, consolidation among Chicago’s movie theaters means little for those looking to catch the big summer movies. “Really, this will have no effect on where people go to see Star Wars,” Mr. Schain said. “They don’t go to a company, they go to the movie.” EDITOR'S NOTE: AND UNLESS AN INDIVIDUAL THEATER DOES SOMETHING TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD (IMPROVED CONCESSIONS OR SOMETHING), PEOPLE GO TO SEE THE MOVIE AT WHICHEVER THEATER IS CLOSEST.


Hollywood risks future by ignoring adults
By Anne Thompson
Let's debunk a popular myth: Grown-ups don't go to the movies.

Truth is, they still go. "Ray," "Million Dollar Baby," "Shall We Dance?" and "The Interpreter" all played primarily to adults. And movies like "Ray" and "Million Dollar Baby" earned their audiences the old-fashioned way: They took their time.

But "Cinderella Man," the most recent film to attempt to court the older-than-35 crowd, is finding that time is a luxury it might not have. Ron Howard's earnest Depression-era boxing drama might have looked like a slam-dunk. Initial audiences liked what they saw, with the film winning a 99% excellent rating from Cinemascore, and a respectable 83% "fresh" rating from the Internet review site But exit polls told a further part of the story: Fully 50% of the "Cinderella Man" audience was older than 50. That's a serious drawback for a movie that cost some $88 million to make and another $40 million to release because this group can't be counted on to rush to theaters on a movie's first weekend. "Cinderella Man" opened on over 2,800 screens to $18.6 million, landing in fourth place behind three holdovers, and fell 46.8% on its second weekend. EDITOR'S NOTE: I'M REALLY NOT SURE WHAT WENT WRONG WITH "CINDERELLA MAN". IT WAS, IF ANYTHING, OVER PROMOTED. IT'S A VERY GOOD MOVIE, WITH EXCELLENT PERFORMANCES, AND THE REVIEWS WERE QUITE FAVORABLE. MAYBE RUSSELL CROWE'S NYC TEMPER TANTRUM HAD AN AFFECT? OR MAYBE...AND THIS ONE I THINK IS MORE LIKELY....IT OPENED ONE WEEKEND TOO CLOSE TO ROTS?

Releasing a high-profile movie for mature moviegoers at the height of summer, when competition is most intense, was not a brilliant move.

"The farther away you get from age 25, the more difficult," one marketer says. "While the appetite for those films is there all year round, adults don't feel that sense of urgency to see the film. They don't commit, it's crowded, they wait to see it later."

Universal Pictures is now counting on DVDs to salvage "Cinderella Man."

Come late fall, when star Russell Crowe's anger issues will have faded from the public's memory, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will stage a well-funded comeback for the drama (which has grossed a piddling $36 million to date), aimed at both DVD buyers and Oscar voters.

When it comes to DVD consumers, the studios are confident that if they build a strong adult movie, the audience will come.

That feeling does not extend to theatergoers.

For that, the studios have only themselves to blame. They're driving that ever-loyal viewer home to watch HBO or DVDs by not keeping the moviegoing habit going with strong movies aimed at adults.

"The movie business is pushing them away," says producer Sean Daniel, "making them look for other things, like renting all the seasons of 'Six Feet Under.' "

Since the dawn of Hollywood, a wide swath of the American public counted themselves among the faithful: frequent moviegoers.

Through the late 1970s, that throng was dominated by adults. Movie critics wrote their reviews for adults. TV, radio and print ads were targeted at adults. Movies were constructed by adults for adults. Sure, there were always youth-market movies, but they were always ancillary, not primary.

Then came the wide-audience marketing revolution. With each succeeding decade, the Hollywood studios, driven by the relative ease of selling their movies to the dominant demographic (young men under 25) that showed up on opening weekends, increasingly aimed their movies at less demanding kids. Slowly but surely, they decreased the number of movies for more discerning grown-ups, leaving that headache to the likes of Miramax Films' Harvey Weinstein, who specialized in building the drumbeat of year-end accolades that accompanies an Oscar campaign.

When the studios produce movies that adults might enjoy, like "The Bourne Identity," "Seabiscuit" or "Gladiator," they try to make sure that the younger demo will like them too. It has become rare to greenlight a big-budget studio movie aimed squarely at the older-than-30 set.

But the studios that take that gamble often score: "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Cocoon," "The First Wives Club," "Training Day," "Grumpy Old Men," "The Truman Show" and "Braveheart" all come to mind, along with a laundry list of Clint Eastwood movies.

But these movies were surprise breakouts; they didn't start out as summer tentpoles or wear their self-importance on their sleeve. They had time to earn word-of-mouth and media attention.

"Clearly older audience movies have to be made for a price," says one studio marketing chief, "by a director who will deliver the product."

The real trick for these movies is to give them enough time to grow legs. (Not the studios' strong suit.)

Take "Crash," which has earned $44 million for Lions Gate Films since it opened May 6 on 1,500 screens. It is scoring with the same cinemagoer that loves "Cinderella Man," but at a fraction of "Cinderella Man's" print and ad costs. That means that it can afford to hang in for the long haul, even in the summer. It's playing and playing and playing, much the way "Sideways" did last year. That movie cost $16 million and grossed $71.5 million in North America.

Obviously, "Cinderella Man" is a different species. It's an A-list top-of-the-line studio movie from Imagine Entertainment, the Tiffany production label on the Universal lot. It's from the so-called "Fab Four" who brought you "A Beautiful Mind": Howard, Crowe, producer Brian Grazer and writer Akiva Goldsman.

This means that "Cinderella Man" can't afford to be modest about anything: budget, star, marketing campaign, release, PR, expectations. No wonder one of the best actors of our time lost his temper after he failed to deliver a $30 million weekend.

At least Crowe appeals to the adult crowd. When 20th Century Fox cast a Orlando Bloom, a young actor with a primarily female audience, in Ridley Scott's big-budget spectacle "Kingdom of Heaven," the studio failed to broaden the film's mature appeal. Unless a movie pulls viewers from all four quadrants, it can't afford to cost $110 million.

There's no reason why the studios can't keep making smart movies just for grown-ups. They just need economies of scale: Put Tom Cruise in "Magnolia," Jim Carrey in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," George Clooney in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Russell Crowe in "Cinderella Man" -- just don't pay their action movie prices.

That way a beautiful movie about a lovable boxer can hang in theaters long enough to catch on with the slowpokes.

They still flock to theaters when they're given something to see, like the independent "The Passion of the Christ" or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." And they turned up for all five of last year's best picture Oscar contenders (all indie-financed, even when studios eventually distributed them).

As more and more people settle into the Netflix habit, the studios might regret letting that sophisticated audience slip away. EDITOR'S NOTE: DUH. YA THINK?! They need people to go to theaters to establish their titles in the first place. They need real people in seats to validate the titles they spent so much to create. (This will become harder as the DVD window gets shorter.)

The audience that can't be counted on to stay loyal is playing with gizmos and gadgets and video games and computers and cell phones. The younger demo could lose the frequent moviegoing habit. That's when the movie business will need adults again. If they haven't already fallen in love with their fancy home entertainment centers. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHICH ARE GETTING FANCIER AND MORE AFFORDABLE AND MOVIE THEATERS STAND STILL ----- TECHNOLOGICALLY AND IN EVERY OTHER RESPECT AS WELL.

Individual brain cells 'recognize' celebrities
Halle Berry? Jennifer Aniston?

Everybody knows them.

And now a surprising study finds that even individual cells in your brain act as if they recognize them.

The work could help shed light on how the brain stores information, an expert said.

When scientists sampled brain cell activity in people who were scrutinizing dozens of pictures, they found some individual cells that reacted to a particular celebrity, landmark, animal or object. In one case, a single cell was activated by different photos of Berry, including some in her "Catwoman" costume, a drawing of her and even the words, "Halle Berry." EDITORS' NOTE: AND YET, I RECOGNIZE ALMOST NO ONE AT PARTIES, AND IT TOOK 3 MEETINGS TO REMEMBER WHAT MY BOSS LOOKS LIKE.

Lewton Horrors on DVD

Warners plans separate, box set releases

Just in time for Halloween, Warner Home Video has announced that the complete VAL LEWTON HORROR COLLECTION will be available on DVD October 4. These horror classics have been out of print since their release in a laserdisc box set in the 1990s, and with the addition of all new extras, should prove to be the must-have item of the season for every horror fan.

Lewton was the innovative producer put in charge of RKO’s B-movie unit in the 1940s, and he’s credited with putting a landmark creative vision to work on them. The horror pictures he produced, mostly working from studio enforced exploitation titles, favored suggestion, shadows and psychological techniques to produce chills on a low budget. They sparked the careers of directors like Robert Wise and Jacques Tourneur, while giving quality roles to established horror stars like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

The series will include these double feature discs:
CAT PEOPLE / CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, with commentraks by horror movie historian Gregory Mank and audio interview excerpts from star Simone Simon.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE / THE BODY SNATCHER, with commentrak by Kim Newman and Steve Jones on ZOMBIE, and Steve Haberman and director Robert Wise on SNATCHER.

ISLE OF THE DEAD / BEDLAM, with commentrak by Tom Weaver on BEDLAM.

These three discs will also be available in a box set with two exclusive bonus discs.

The first disc will hold THE LEOPARD MAN (including commentrak with William Friedkin) and GHOST SHIP. The final disc will hold THE SEVENTH VICTIM (with commentrak by Steve Haberman) and a new documentary feature SHADOWS IN THE DARK: THE VAL LEWTON LEGACY.

Original concept? Sorry, we'll pass

As multiplexes fill with an avalanche of remakes and sequels, attendance is headed to its lowest level since 1996.

By Patrick GoldsteinTimes Staff WriterJune 28, 2005

Imagine a 23rd century historian, lounging in a cozy oxygenated yurt on the third moon of Jupiter, puzzling over one of the great enigmas of the early 21st century: Why in a time of so much dazzling technological innovation, from the iPod to the cellphone camera, were so many gifted filmmakers retreating into the past, devoting their time to remaking flimsy old TV shows and movies?

If you wanted to see something "new and original" this past weekend — and I can't stress the use of those quotes enough — here's what the studios had to offer.

You could see "Herbie: Fully Loaded," a Disney remake of the 1969 comedy "The Love Bug."

You could see "Bewitched," the Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman-starring remake of the popular 1960s TV show.

Or you could see "George Romero's Land of the Dead," the fourth installment in Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" series.

And, boy, is there more to come.

Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" arrives this week. On July 15 comes Tim Burton's reworking of "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," followed closely by a remake of "The Bad News Bears" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."

It's impossible to pick up Variety without discovering a new remake heading for the runway.

Since early May, the following remakes have been announced: "All of Me," "The Heartbreak Kid," "Adventures in Babysitting," "Day of the Dead," "Porky's" and "Swiss Family Robinson," plus two TV shows, "Underdog" and "The Persuaders."



So if the multiplexes are full of homogenized pop baubles, why wouldn't more people than ever be happy to stay home and fire up a DVD on their new plasma-screen TV?

The problem with remakes is that, for the most part, they are made by committee, ensuring that daring or subversive material rarely makes it onto the screen. EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT ISN'T A FUNCTION OF SOMETHING BEING A REMAKE; THAT'S A PROBLEM IN HOLLYWOOD IN GENERAL.

When Scott Frank was hired to write the remake of 20th Century Fox's "Flight of the Phoenix," he took the story in a dark, character-driven direction. But the studio balked.

"They said that kind of film wasn't salable," he explains. "They saw it as an action film about guys being attacked by Bedouins."

Of course, the more "salable" version flopped anyway.

If a movie ends up with a squishy-soft center, which seems to be the dominant aesthetic of Hollywood remakes — don't offend anyone, guys! We're making disposable entertainment here! — then why would anyone feel a pressing need to rush out and brave the crowds on opening weekend? EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS A PROBLEM IN RADIO AND TV PROGRAMMING AS WELL. IT HAS TO DO WITH THE CORPORATIZATION OF AMERICA AND BIG COMPANY DEBT LOAD.

"You'd think it would be a given that you'd want to go to a theater and be surprised," says Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern. "But the studios are frightened by newness. And, more scarily, audiences seem to feel the same way. Most of the remakes are so ponderous and overblown that the foundations of the original film can't carry the weight. You don't walk out singing the theme song, you hear the studio's notes — make it louder, make it faster, let us hear the woofer's woof."

It's unfair to simply blame the studios for this impasse.

Many of today's movie revivals are being directed by gifted filmmakers who presumably have the clout to avoid being dragooned into refurbishing a musty movie gathering dust in the studio vaults.

Peter Jackson has a new remake of "King Kong" coming this Christmas. Michael Mann is remaking "Miami Vice," his old TV series. Before "Chocolate Factory," Burton remade "Planet of the Apes." Steven Soderbergh did "Ocean's Eleven" and its sequel, "Ocean's Twelve." Bryan Singer, after doing a sequel to "X-Men," is now directing "Superman Returns." Jonathan Demme did "The Manchurian Candidate" and "The Truth About Charlie," a reworking of "Charade."

Trust me, I could go on — and on. It's the curse of our time.

Civilization has miraculously survived into the 21st century only to expend most of its creative energy reliving the past.

Hollywood is hardly the only corner of our culture infected with the remake virus.

Broadway has been living off of revivals of old shows for years.

Every time I turn on the TV there's another installment of "CSI" or "Law & Order."

Pop music is overrun by "American Idol"-style covers of old hits while Alanis Morissette is remaking "Jagged Little Pill."

Even the Gap is running ads with Joss Stone wailing "The Right Time," a hit nearly 30 years before she was born.

Have we really run out of fresh ideas? Or do we simply live in an era of cultural re-entrenchment, in which audiences prefer to be soothed rather than stimulated, tickled with feathers of familiarity instead of being challenged with unsettling visions?

After all, the reason studios are scared stiff about making serious dramas today is because audiences have refused to go see them. EDITOR'S NOTE: A BIT OF AN UNFAIR GENERALIZATION, DON'T YOU THINK? VERY GOOD STUFF GETS AUDIENCES. BUT NOT EVERYTHING CAN BE A $200 MILLION DOLLAR 'BLOCKBUSTER', AND TRYING FOR THAT CREATES UNREASONABLE EXPECTATIONS.

To hear the studio chiefs tell it, remakes are a way to actually make films about subjects they care about.

"We're not doing this cynically,"EDITOR'S NOTE: SNICKER. SUUUUUURRRE. says Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Amy Pascal, who's made "Bewitched" and "Charlie's Angels," with a remake of "Fun With Dick and Jane" due this fall. "Remakes are the best kind of genre film. They allow you to say something without people feeling they're being hit over the head with a message. The core idea within 'Bewitched' is that love and magic are the same thing. It's a great way to tell a love story in a sly, witty way."

Disney production chief Nina Jacobson heartily embraces the studio's remakes of "The Parent Trap," "Freaky Friday" and "Herbie." When I asked why she made the films, she quipped: "It's a very scientific process. They're all the movies I loved as a child."

It scarcely matters that the originals were hardly cinematic classics. "I'd be hard-pressed to even tell you who the original filmmakers were," she says. "But the films each have a great idea that could be approached in a contemporary way."

Jacobson believes that critics — and people like me — are being unfairly snooty about remakes. "There's a certain snobbery about what's an appropriate source for a movie idea," she says. "It's fine if it's a book, but not if it's a movie. It's fine if it's a comic book, but not if it's a theme park ride. Everyone scoffed when we made 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' yet it turned out great. The crime is in making a bad movie — that's where you go to jail. There's nothing criminal in searching for the seeds of a good idea wherever you can find it."EDITOR'S NOTE: AMEN!

Fair enough.

If I were compiling my 100 favorite films, there would be plenty of remakes, from Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday" to Don Siegel's "The Killers" to Brian De Palma's "Scarface." Alfred Hitchcock and Hawks remade their own movies all the time — in fact, Hawks remade "Rio Bravo" twice.

But Hitchcock and Hawks' remakes came after decades of exploring original material.

Today, too many gifted young filmmakers are recycling material right from the start.Robert Rodriguez, for example, made "Desperado," his first sequel to "El Mariachi," when he was 27. Since then, he's made a third installment in that series as well as three entries in his "Spy Kids" series. His latest film, "Sin City," was such a numbingly faithful re-creation of Frank Miller's graphic novel series that it felt like a remake, not an original film. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH PULEEZ. SO BECAUSE IT WAS A FAITHFUL ADAPTATION, IT IS THEREFORE BAD? FOR THOSE OF US RELATIVELY UNEXPOSED TO MILLER'S GRAPHIC NOVEL SERIES, IT FELT QUITE REFRESHING, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Too often, today's remakes are a convenient means to plug a brand name into the studio's movie calendar, the entire process working backward from a coveted summer release date.

Right now, Warner Bros. is cobbling together "The Poseidon Adventure," which is considered such a valuable remake asset that it already has a release date — May 5, 2006 — even though it hasn't started filming. So far the studio has thrown at least seven writers into the breach, ranging from big-shots like Akiva Goldsman and Paul Attanasio to hot newcomers like D.B. Weiss and Mark Protosevich. To make its release schedule, the studio plans to have director Wolfgang Petersen filming practically 24 hours a day in Mexico, with a second-unit crew shooting at night while the main production unit handles the daytime hours.

Hey, are they making a movie or building a Blue Line tunnel to LAX?

Not every movie can be an artistic triumph, but moviegoers deserve better.

They're already beginning to demand it.

CNN did an online poll Friday, asking what movie people were most likely to see over the weekend. The new films "Herbie," "Bewitched" and "Land of the Dead" received 27% of the vote.

The landslide winner, with 73%, was "None, I'd rather rent a DVD of something good."